In an upcoming auction, you will have the opportunity to own a recently-discarded piece of Disney theme park history from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Ranch, or Disneyland’s 60th Diamond Celebration, but how did these pieces get into a third-party auction and why are cast members and park guests not getting in on the action?
In recent months and years, Disney has abruptly ended the D23 Expo auction, and noticeably limited the number of attraction props and such that are liquidated through Property Control and Cast Member Auctions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. For whatever reason, Disney seems afraid to sell attraction props themselves.
This is becoming a growing issue as they have closed some truly beloved, classic attractions in recent memory, from Maelstrom, to the Universe of Energy, to the Great Movie Ride. Where do all the salvaged props from a closed theme park attraction go? Well, they go to a few places typically, as items can be claimed by Walt Disney Imagineering, the Walt Disney Archives, and then any remaining items can be taken by Property Control, most likely to be sold off at some point in time to cast members, or in rare circumstances, to guests or vendors. Sadly, in recent times, this hasn’t been happening.
On top of this, Disney has seemingly noticed that some secondary market avenues are bringing bigger bucks for these types of “one of a kind” prop items and they now want to get in on the action. Rather than sell these items directly to their cast members or guests as they have done in the past, sources within the Disneyland Resort have indicated that Disney is now consigning these larger, more prominent attraction props through the upcoming “Remembering Disneyland” auction by Van Eaton Galleries to make more on them and to perhaps avoid backlash from guests and their employees for profiteering on such things. Disney already has taken a lot of flack from fans for closing Tower of Terror in California, so it may not be in their best interest to publicly auction props from the ride themselves. On top of that, Cast Member auctions aren’t exactly the best way to make money on a prop as most cast members aren’t really making a wage where they can afford to blow hundreds of dollars on a lighting fixture from the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
In an interview we conducted on Friday, Mike Van Eaton of Van Eaton Galleries denied that Van Eaton auctions works with the Walt Disney Company in any way and stated that they do not sell items acquired directly from Disney, nor do they accept consignment items from them. It would be one heck of a coincidence that all of these Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Ranch, and Diamond Celebration props vanished from the resort and mysteriously landed in one big auction at the same time. Sources within the Disneyland Resort indicate it is likely much more than a coincidence. In our research for this piece, these items were never publicly sold by the Disneyland Resort at their property control facilities, through cast auctions, or anything of the sort. The props, especially those from Tower of Terror, are also far too large and iconic to have “walked away” during the conversion of the ride. They have simply been in storage since the props were removed, and now someone at Disney seems to have decided that a 3rd party auction is the best way to liquidate them for maximum profit and minimum backlash.
In addition to the aforementioned items, the upcoming auction includes over 800 lots of Disneyland memorabilia tracing the history of Disneyland from its opening in 1955 up to present day. The catalog features a number of rarely available items including fascinating internal company documents that cast a light on the decisions, processes, financials, and everything else you might have wondered about Disney theme park operations, as well as rare Disneyland artifacts including cast costumes, a nearly complete collection of Disneyland security badges from all eras, and props and signs from favorite attractions. As in past auctions, Van Eaton noted that they source these items from cast members and private collections of Disney memorabilia.
It is worth mentioning that, in the past, the Walt Disney Company has been very much against the resale of some cast member pieces, such as past and present security costuming and badges from the parks, as well as character costume pieces. In my time working with theme park collectibles, it was not uncommon for Disney to ask or demand that the sale of a security badge or character costume piece be halted due to safety concerns that someone could impersonate a park employee once by procuring one. Needless to say, it would be a pretty large ethical dilemma if Disney was consigning items in an auction catalog alongside these pieces.
While there is certainly some negativity surrounding how this is being handled, we are excited by the prospect of owning an actual piece of some of our favorite, recently-departed attractions, one way or another. What we are not sure of is why Disney has chosen to sell its own memorabilia through a third party. Surely a company of that size really would have no need to share any profits with anyone, right? Also, an advertised auction isn’t the best way to quietly sell off giant pieces of beloved theme park rides.
In recent times, Disney themselves have proven they can do it. Disney knows their customers and they haven’t been afraid of selling memorabilia to the public in the past. The Disney Cast Costume Collection of handbags proves that they’re not afraid to sell “artifacts” from the Parks, or even market them. On top of that, Disney has sold signs and memorabilia at Disney-run auctions, special events, and conventions for over twenty years. Hell, even Universal Orlando has an in-park retail location for the sale of props and signs (and it’s really wonderful, so kudos to them for such a great idea).
What do you think should be done with these pieces?